Authors: Denise Grover Swank
Tags: #Short Stories
The Chosen Series Short #2
Denise Grover Swank
Books by Denise Grover Swank:
Rose Gardner Mysteries
(Humorous southern mysteries)
TWENTY-EIGHT AND A HALF WISHES
TWENTY-NINE AND A HALF REASONS
THIRTY-AND A HALF EXCUSES (Winter 2013)
The Chosen Series
(Paranormal thriller/romance/urban fantasy)
CHOSEN (The Chosen #1)
HUNTED (The Chosen #2)
SACRIFICE (The Chosen#3)
REDEMPTION (The Chosen #4) (October, 2012)
The Chosen Shorts Series-- Prequels
(The Chosen Short #1)
(The Chosen Short #2)
Untitled (Reader’s Choice) August 1, 2012
On the Otherside Series
(Young adult science fiction/romance)
THERE (December 2012)
Copyright 2012 by Denise Grover Swank
Copy Editing by Jim Thomsen
Cover art and design by Cynthia Moyer
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments, organizations, or locations are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used factiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.
The sounds of laughter hit Will before he walked through the door of the banquet room. He took a deep breath and forced himself to relax, not an easy task. Only a few days before he’d been in charge of a unit that had raided an Iraqi village, and now he was at his sister’s wedding rehearsal dinner in Morgantown, Missouri. The change in environments was always jolting, but becoming harder to manage every time he came home.
His best friend James put a hand on his shoulder. “Hang in there, buddy.”
James served in the same unit, but he never seemed to struggle as much as Will with his reacclimation.
Will stepped into the room and found Meagan sitting at the center of the table, surrounded by her friends. A pang of happiness and nostalgia washed over him. He still couldn’t believe his baby sister was getting married.
“Will!” Meagan called out, jumping from her chair.
“The hero’s come home!” someone shouted, and everyone in the room turned toward him.
Uncomfortable with the attention, Will cringed.
James face lit up with a big smile. He’d always loved the limelight more than Will. “It’s good to be home.”
Meagan made her way through the crowd, throwing her arms around Will’s neck. “You missed the rehearsal. I was worried you weren’t going to make it!”
He held her tight, as memories of their childhood rushed through his head. “What? And miss my baby sister’s wedding? Our plane was delayed, but if I had to, I would have walked to make it to your wedding.”
She pulled back smiling, love in her eyes. “I would have held the ceremony until you got here. I can’t get married without you.”
Will’s eyes scanned the room. “Has Dad made it yet?”
Her back tensed. “No.”
“He’s coming though, right?”
Her smile fell. “He said he’d try. Mom’s not very happy.”
Will hid his disappointment. “Well, he’s got a lot going on, although I was sure he’ll be here.”
She shrugged. “We learned a long time ago to never count on him.”
Will was about to protest when James grabbed Megan and pulled her into a hug. “What’s this terrible rumor I’ve heard that you’re getting married, Meghead? You were supposed to wait for me. Now you’ve broken my heart.”
She giggled as James nuzzled her neck.
Her fiancé watched with anxious eyes, but Will knew he had nothing to worry about. While Megan had had a crush on James when they were younger, they were more like siblings than friends.
She pushed away from him and hugged Will’s arm, snuggling into his side. “I couldn’t wait forever. Dan swooped in and stole my heart.”
“Well if you decide he’s not man enough for you, you know where to find me.”
She laughed, then stood on her tiptoes and kissed Will’s cheek. “I’m glad you’re here, Will.”
Winking at James, she laughed again. “And you too, as long as you don’t go stirring up any trouble.”
James tilted his head with a cocky grin. “Who, me?”
She gave him a fake scowl. “Stay away from my friends.”
“Hey, it’s been a long eight months.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Even more reason to stay away.”
Will laughed. “I’ll keep him on a leash.”
“Somebody has to.”
“In the back with the manager, making sure everything’s perfect.”
“I thought the groom’s family took care of the rehearsal dinner.”
She waved a hand. “You know Mom.”
He did, only too well. She had always gone out of her way to make sure their birthday parties were close to perfection. He’d always assumed that was her way of making up for their father’s absence. He could only imagine the lengths she was going through to make sure Megan’s wedding turned out to be a fairy tale come true.
Glancing over at her fiancé, Megan twisted her mouth with uncertainty. “I really need to get back to Dan…”
He gave her a gentle push. “Go. I’m fine. This is your weekend, Meg. You’re the star attraction. Don’t worry about me.”
Tears filled her eyes. “I always worry about you.”
“I’m here safe and sound.”
She hesitated before putting her hand on his chest, staring into his eyes. “That wasn’t what I was talking about.”
He didn’t get a chance to question what she meant before she returned to Dan’s side, a smile lighting her face. She was like a warm spring breeze. Everyone loved her. Dan was a lucky man.
His mother appeared in the doorway on the opposite wall. She paused and her face lit up with happiness as she rushed toward him. Will reached her first and threw his arms around her, lifting her off the ground. “Mom.” His voice choked on the word.
She squeezed him back, clinging to his neck before relaxing her hold. “William Marcus! Put me down. You’re not in high school anymore, showing off to your friends!”
He chuckled in her ear and set her down. “I have to continually prove myself to James over there.”
“You proved yourself enough to that boy years ago.” Reaching a hand to his cheek, she gazed at his face. “Let me look at you.”
“I look exactly the same as I did eight months ago, Mom. Only a little more tan.”
She bit her lip, shaking her head. “No, there’s something else different. Like you’re more of a man.”
He looked down, embarrassed, even though he was sure there was truth to her words. A person couldn’t see what he saw and do what he did without growing up and hardening inside. Still, she studied his face every time he came home. While he suspected she really searched for something else, he had yet to figure what she looked for.
“I’m another year older,” he teased. “I’m an old man of twenty-eight.”
She shook her head. “You’ll always be my baby.” Her voice lowered and her chin trembled. “I’m so glad you’re home.”
“There’s no place I’d rather be.” He meant it, and not because he was grateful for a break from military action. His mother and his sister had always been his anchor in life, and he felt adrift when he wasn’t near them. The three of them had been close as long as he remembered, bonding during his father’s long absences as Marine officer.
James moved next to them. “Don’t keep her all to yourself, Will.”
His mom turned to James and smiled. “I’m so glad you could come, James. It wouldn’t be the same without you.”
His eyes widened for a moment before his cockiness returned. “What
be the same without me?”
She laughed and hugged him. “Oh, James. Never a dull moment with you around.”
“I’m going to pretend that’s a compliment. I’ve missed you, Mrs. Davenport.”
a compliment and it’s good to have you home. Are you boys hungry?”
James patted his stomach. “Always.”
“Dan’s mom has you both at the end of the table by Megan. I’m stuck with Dan’s parents, but we can catch up later.” Will heard the disappointment in her voice. He knew from their e-mails that she didn’t care for Dan’s mother. She’d rather sit with Will since they only had a few days before he left.
“Is Dad coming?”
She hesitated. “He said he was going to try.”
“He’ll do whatever he can to be here.”
Uncertainty wavered in her eyes before she gave him a tight smile. “Of course he will.”
After Will and James took their seats and dinner was served, Will studied the people around him. Several of Megan’s friends from their childhood were seated around him, and they made small talk. A few unmarried ones looked at him with a hint of appreciation in their eyes. A familiar pang of regret filled him and he wondered if he’d ever find someone to settle down with.